Over the course of a modern presidential election, the major-party candidates are going to release all kinds of television ads and videos. Some, however, are more important than others.
President Obama’s re-election team unveiled this new spot overnight, called “The Choice,” and unlike the daily back-and-forth, attack-counterattack messaging, this one carries a greater significance. On msnbc this morning, John Heilemann called it a “seminal ad,” adding, “I think it’s going to be an ad that you’re going to look back on as having been an important ad in the course of the whole election.”
This is a minute-long ad—double the usual length—featuring the president speaking directly to the camera for nearly the entire 60 seconds. Whenever an incumbent is seeking re-election, there’s an inevitable “referendum vs. choice” tension, and this spot is intended to push the latter theme—Obama uses the word “choice” three times.
What’s more, the ad manages to be criticize Mitt Romney with a deft touch, rather than a sledgehammer. The president explains that the Republican supports tax breaks for the wealthy, fewer safeguards for Wall Street, and trickle-down economics—before reminding viewers, “We tried that top-down approach. It’s what caused the mess in the first place.”
Obama then offers an alternative vision: “I believe the only way to create an economy built to last is to strengthen the middle class. Asking the wealthy to pay a little more so we can pay down our debt in a balanced way. So that we can afford to invest in education, manufacturing, and homegrown American energy for good middle class jobs. Sometimes politics can seem very small. But the choice you face, it couldn’t be bigger.”
As a rule, it’s tough to capture the larger themes of a historic presidential election in less than a minute—unless you’re prepared to speak very quickly—but this ad does it extremely well. Want to know Obama’s 2012 message in a nutshell? Here it is, in one 60-second package.
It also expresses a high degree of confidence, which may or may not be misplaced, that voters actually care about substance and policies. Obama isn’t afraid to let the public know, for example, that he wants the wealthy to pay a little more, so we can invest in priorities the American mainstream still cares about.
But it’s the whole talk-directly-to-the-camera thing that probably stands out most. The underlying strategy, I suspect, is that the president’s re-election team believes Obama is still personally popular and likable, and having him communicate this way is intended to help reinforce a larger connection. My strong hunch is that Mitt Romney, who’s less likable, more awkward, and harder to relate to on a personal level, wouldn’t run an ad like this—and if he did, the spot would be far less effective.
The ad is set to run in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Mark Halperin called it “totally worth watching,” and in this case, I think he’s right.